“Pro-Labor” Union Busting in Illinois

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Pat QuinnRepublican governors across the country carrying out a vicious and open assault against organized labor, many trade unionists and their supporters are looking toward the Democratic Party as a refuge from the anti-worker barrage. The Democrats pose as “friends of labor,” and are frequently on the stage at pro-union and solidarity rallies from Madison, WI to Keokuk, IA. But where they are in power, for example in New York and California, they are carrying out essentially the same policies as the Republicans. In order to learn their real attitude toward unions–and the working class in general–one need look no further than Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Elected with the backing of most of the Illinois labor movement, Governor Quinn prides himself on his allegedly pro-worker policies. He stated that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “should be ashamed of himself” for ramming through the new law that dramatically rolls back state workers’ rights to organize. However, despite the supportive rhetoric, Quinn’s proposed state budget features $552 million in cuts to Medicaid as well as cuts to after-school and mental health programs for students.

Touted as a means to finance payment on bills owed by the state, the Democrats reveal their true nature as a party of Big Business when they opt to make working people pay for budget crises instead of making the rich pay. The Democrat-led Illinois House has even more draconian plans for the budget, proposing a $200 million cut to education.

The Quinn administration’s own form of union busting can be seen in their attack on the booming ranks of Illinois public sector unions. In the past eight years more than ten thousand state employees have become union members, bringing the unionization rate of state employees up to 94.3 percent–a far larger share than Wisconsin, where only 60 percent of state employees are unionized. This rise in unionization was the result of disaffection with the previous Democratic Blagojevich administration.

The inspiring protest movement against Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation has led to a further 1,100 Wisconsin state workers applying for union representation, including many employees once considered management. Governor Quinn’s office is pressing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has benefited the most from the new wave of unionization, to give up thousands of its new members, threatening a revival of legislation that would restrict eligibility for unionization if it doesn’t.

As any class-conscious worker knows, a large part of a union’s strength is in the scope of its membership. The Democrats complain that allowing these lower-management job classifications into the union blurs the line between workers and “bosses,” and would lead to a breakdown of workplace discipline. But in reality, most of these positions are merely fellow workers afforded only a small measure of authority over their peers, often doing a lot more work for not much more pay.

The reality is that the bosses fear what the swelling ranks of public sector unions could mean for the smooth running of their austerity drive. By allowing low-level managers into AFSCME and other unions, labor actions that could once be nipped in the bud in the workplace could grow if managers begin to identify more with the interests of their coworkers than with the upper ranks of the state bureaucrats.

The AFSCME leadership, still adhering to a class-collaborationist “business unionism” policy of alliance with the Democratic Party, criticizes Quinn’s policy but characterizes it as a mere lapse in judgement. They stated that “Illinois Democrats–who should be solidly in labor’s corner–have joined with Republicans in a continuing effort to strip thousands of state employees of their bargaining rights by redefining ‘managerial and supervisory’ under state labor law.”

But a careful look at the government’s plans, should AFSCME refuse to acquiesce to the Governor, should be enough to dispel this illusion. State House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, the Chicago Democrat who introduced a bill to roll back union membership eligibility during the last legislative session, stands behind state lawmakers’ preparations to reintroduce a slimmed-down version of the bill that would rule out unionization for those who offer “meaningful input into government decision-making.” It would also rescind collective bargaining rights for those types of employees who have joined unions since 2008.

This is in effect an admission that in their view, workers should not have a voice in the running of their workplaces. However, since the expansion of unionization began two years ago, there has been no evidence to suggest that the weakening of the workplace’s chain of command has led to any decrease in productivity whatsoever. The disdainful attitude of the capitalist parties towards the working class is shown by their declaration that we require orders from above to function. In fact, working people are more than capable of controlling the levers of the economy by themselves, as evidenced by various examples of workers’ control in Venezuela and around the world.

The Illinois labor movement has demonstrated the potential of its strength in numerous “We Are One” rallies, including a rally of over 10,000 in Chicago in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin and against anti-worker attacks in the state itself. Now is the time for AFSCME Council 31 and the Illinois AFL-CIO to realize that neither corporate party represents their interests or the interests of working people as a whole. By breaking from the union-busting Democrats and Republicans and forming an independent party of labor, Illinois workers would at last find a real vehicle for their needs and aspirations on the political field.


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